4 Mississippi Gulf Coast Museums for the History Buff

Mention the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and you may think of sunning on white sand beaches, deep-sea fishing, or dining al fresco. All of those are great Gulf Coast activities…except when the weather doesn’t cooperate. On the occasional rainy or chilly day, plan to visit one of several Mississippi Gulf Coast museums. Here are four museums that history buffs, especially, will enjoy:

Beauvoir – Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library

Beauvoir - The Jefferson Davis mansion and presidential museum in Biloxi is one of the must-do Mississippi Gulf Coast Museums
The Beauvoir mansion – Jefferson Davis’ retirement home

Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederacy, retired to a cottage on the Beauvoir estate to write his memoirs. He eventually purchased the property and moved his family into the mansion that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico.

Take the guided tour of the mansion, and then stroll the grounds on your own. Peek into the windows of the cottage where Jefferson first stayed, and explore the Beauvoir Memorial Cemetery. Be sure to visit the presidential library, also, to learn more about Jefferson Davis’ life.

One ironic trivia bit we learned in the library is that Jefferson Davis swore Abraham Lincoln in as a captain of the militia during the Black Hawk War. (I’ve since read, however, that Jefferson Davis’ wife included that information in a book she wrote. However, there is no other evidence found to prove it really happened.)

Waveland’s Ground Zero Hurricane Museum

The 2005 Hurricane Katrina is among the worst natural disasters in the United States. One of the hardest hit areas was the tiny town of Waveland, Mississippi. Slammed by a 30-foot wall of water, virtually every building in town was either flattened or damaged.

Twenty-eight businesses on Coleman Avenue were destroyed. Only an elementary school building remained. Today that former school building is home to Waveland’s Ground Zero Hurricane Museum.

The museum includes artifacts from the hurricane damage and before-and-after photographs. Be sure to watch the emotional film that highlights the lives of some who survived the storm—and some who lost loved ones.

One survivor told the story of how he sent his mother to stay with a relative in nearby Bay St. Louis, which is on higher ground. As she was leaving, he jokingly said to her, “This may be the last time I see you.” It was no joke, though. Although he (and his dog) barely made it through the hurricane, his mother didn’t.

Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum

The Nydia - built circa 1898 at the Johnson Shipyard in Biloxi. One of the exhibits at the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi.
The Nydia – built circa 1898

In the late 19th century, Biloxi, Mississippi, boomed in the shrimp and oyster industries. Canneries processed two million pounds of oysters and 614,000 pounds of shrimp annually. The Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum showcases the history of the shrimp and oyster businesses with several artifacts, placards, and videos.

The museum also displays locally-produced wooden boats, as well as models of shrimp boats and schooners. A highlight is the Nydia, a sailboat built around 1898 at Biloxi’s Johnson Shipyard.

The Hurricane Gallery includes a timeline of storms that pummeled the Gulf Coast. The gallery doubles as a theater with streaming videos. The video playing during our visit was about Hurricane Katrina and included news clips from the days leading up to, during, and following the hurricane. It was interesting to see the clips of the local TV station WLOX as the station itself was being destroyed by the hurricane while on the air.

Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum

Several small planes are among the exhibits at the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum in Gulfport, Mississippi
One of several small planes on exhibit at the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum

Newly opened in Gulfport in 2020, the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum displays several small planes. Additional exhibits highlight the Tuskegee Airmen, Mississippi military bases, the Mississippi Aviation Hall of Fame, and local NASA astronauts.

A theater, set in what looks like the inside of a plane, shows films of veterans telling their fascinating military life stories.

A special museum exhibit focuses on the life of early black aviator John C. Robinson. Despite repeated setbacks due to his skin color, Robinson eventually was able to earn his pilot’s license. He and a friend opened their own air field and aviation school in Robbins, Illinois, to make it easier for other blacks to learn to fly. In 1935, to prove that black pilots had the same aptitude to fly as white pilots, Robinson volunteered to help defend Ethiopia from an invasion by Italy. Although he was shot three times, he was never shot down and became known as “the Brown Condor of Ethiopia.”

Have You Visited These Mississippi Gulf Coast Museums?

If not, plan to add one or more of these museums to your agenda when you visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast for insight into the history of the area.